Water based vs. Plastisol: Which ink is better? | A Comparison

In the screen printing industry, there are two categories of ink: plastisol and water-based. Screen printing experts debate about these inks to print a design on apparel. Naturally, everyone wants an answer about water-based vs. plastisol: which ink is better?

Well, like other things in the screen-printing industry answer is it depends. Ideally, screen printing professionals want to achieve a print on apparel that shows a top level of vibrancy along with the precise color match, holds details of printing design with versatile nature, is durable enough to withstand washing and wearing, is cost-effective, easy to use, and eco-friendly.

There are many factors to consider before selecting the right ink to fulfill our purpose of ideal print. In this post, I will discuss each factor clearly to select a better ink for your customers from water-based vs. plastisol.

1 – Water-based Ink Has a Soft Hand Print

Water-based ink contains two major ingredients: a pigment and water. The pigment is completely water soluble. When the water-based is cured at the required temperature, water evaporates, while the pigment seeps into the fabric and creates a strong bond with the apparel.

Water-based ink usually has a softer hand; here, softer means how a screen print on a garment feels to the hand. The ink produces a thin, flexible, soft print layer that withstands countless washes.

Generally, printing with water–based ink was possible for 100% cotton t-shirts, but now cotton poly and tri-blends can have vintage prints with this ink.

While a plastisol ink contains small particles of plastic (PVC) and other polymers suspended in a plasticizer, these polymer particles form a layer on the top of the garment after curing the ink at the recommended temperature. The resulting print from plastisol ink feels hard to hand.

The plastisol ink doesn’t evaporate; you can leave printing at any time and start printing again on next day.

Winner: Water-based Ink

Read more: Hippo Sublimation Ink vs Cosmos Ink

2 – Plastisol Ink has High Color Vibrancy

Plastisol ink shows more color brightness (saturation) on dark garments. In comparison, water-based ink produces the same effect on light color apparel. A plastisol ink gives a solid layer of print on the garment’s surface (shirts) as every particle is cured. This layer creates an opaque under the base to have a bright and bold color print.

Also, the print achieved by screen print with plastisol ink completely covers the color of the garment (clothes).

Therefore, go for the plastisol ink when you need a print with a high vibrance and pop-off effect. It is why Plastisol ink has a heavier hand in the screen-printing industry.

On the hand, water-based inks are transparent. It is difficult to have an opaque under base, which results in less vibrancy over dark garments.

Winner: Plastisol Ink

Note: Water-based ink is the right choice if you prefer soft hand print over color vibrancy on shirts (garments).

3 – Both the Plastisol and Water-based Inks are Durable

As the water–based inks absorb into the fibers of garments, the print lasts as long as the garment does. Similarly, the print of plastisol ink creates a strong bond and resides over the surface of blank (garments). So, here I am calling a Tie between two Inks.

Various factors can affect the durability of prints of both inks.

Improper Curing

In screen printing, curing is the most important step to strongly bond ink particles with fabrics. When proper curing temperature and time are not given, the print will wash away after a few washes.

Care of Garments

After screen printing, care and washing the garment with the right detergents is the second most important step. If you wash the screen-printed shirts frequently with heavy detergents, hot water, and bleach, the print will go away eventually.

Read more: Screen Printing Vs. Heat Transfer Vinyl

4 – Water-based Ink has Better Breathability

The breathability of a printed fabric is the ability of moisture to pass through.

A plastisol ink produces a thicker print (sweat patch) which sits on the fabric’s surface (garment) due to the strong bonding of plastic particles. The resulting tough surface doesn’t let the air or moisture move through a printed area of the garment.

In Contrast, water–based ink print fuses into the fibers and keep the small holes (openings) remain as they are and help pass the air through the fabric.

This factor gives water-based prints more breathability than Plastisol ink.

Winner: Water-based Ink

5 – Plastisol ink Has better Color Accuracy

The plastisol ink fulfills the purpose when a brand needs a specific color mixing in print. The color of shirts or other blanks doesn’t matter; you can get what is required.

But in the case of water–based ink, Pantone shade is difficult to achieve, which brands require.

Winner: Plastisol Ink

6 – Water-based ink is Eco–friendly

Plastisol ink contains plastic particles as a major ingredient, which tend to pollute the environment. Most international industry experts, like the Consumer Product Safety Information Act (CPSIA), are marketing to promote water–based ink containing less plastic.

Plastic content in water–based ink is in the form of acrylics and other binders. The primary content (water) evaporates along with other co-solvents, such as alcohol and formaldehyde, during curing. These evaporative solvents (fumes) can damage the printers unless they are protected.

Winner: Water-based Ink

7 – Plastisol is Effective Cost Ink

A water–based ink produces soft-hand prints, but it comes with a high price. Many screen-printing experts take this ink as a premium or special one. Water–based inks are harder to work with. The results also depend upon the types of fabric, quality of ink, and type of printer.

While plastisol ink can give a little hard print (same) at a low price, it remains stable for the most part and therefore keeps its workability. Plastisol is easy to work at a low cost and high yield.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is plastisol still the best screen-printing ink?

Plastisol ink is user-friendly with higher viscosity which creates opaque prints. It makes the coverage much better on dark garments (fabrics). Therefore, this ink is still the better choice for a printer for screen printing.

Is plastisol ink cheaper or water-based ink?

Plastisol Ink. Plastisol is a less expensive and user-friendly ink for screen printing.

What are the benefits of using plastisol ink?

Here are some benefits of Plastisol ink

  • Plastisol ink adheres strongly to fabrics (clothes)
  • Plastisol ink doesn’t dry on screens if left to enjoy break time
  • Produce opaque prints
  • Vibrancy in colors
  • Less expensive
  • Diverse printing ability

How long does the plastisol screen print last?

100+ washes.

A Plastisol ink print doesn’t peel off or fade until 100 washes. As everything ages, plastisol prints may fade due to bleach and carelessness in washing.

Does plastisol ink crack?

Yes, when curing is not properly performed. Over-curing and under-curing can cause brittleness in print and eventually cracks out.

What surfaces can plastisol ink print on?

Plastisol ink printing is possible on all garments (surfaces) which withstand high heat and permit ink penetration. It doesn’t seep into the fabric like water–based ink but wraps around the fibers and forms a bond.

Can you use a heat gun to dry plastisol ink?

Yes, plastisol ink is cured to dry with the help of a heat gun. Hold the heat gun over the print; otherwise, the shirt may get damaged.

How many shirts can you print with a quart of plastisol ink?

Usually 200-500 shirts.

The range is wise because light designs on dark garments (shirts) need printing twice.

Final Verdict

My final judgment about comparing water–based ink vs. plastisol is that “Plastisol is the Winner.” Top-level color accuracy, vibrancy, and high yield are only achievable with plastisol ink. Although water–based ink gives us lightweight and soft hand prints, it’s hard to work with as you have to complete the job and then take a break.

Plastisol ink is long-lasting, affordable, and easy to work with.

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